Candidate for Georgia governor, Stacey Abrams

Candidate for Georgia governor, Stacey Abrams, high-fives Raheem of Sandersville, Ga. (Credit: Stacey Abrams Facebook page)

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our Running Women project following 15 compelling women candidates in 2018.

After months of intense campaigning, two women, Stacey Abrams and Sarah Riggs Amico, won the Democratic Party’s nomination to lead Georgia. They would be the first women to become the state’s governor and lieutenant governor, respectively.

Abrams, a liberal former minority leader of the Georgia House and a serial entrepreneur and novelist, won a decisive victory over Stacey Evans, also a former state legislator, with a surprisingly strong 76 percent of the vote. In so doing, she made history as the first black woman to win a major party nomination for governor in any state. If she wins in November, Abrams will become the first African-American woman governor in the nation’s history. In the general election, she will face either Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle or Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who now face a July runoff for the Republican nomination.

Meanwhile, Riggs Amico, the “politically purple” executive chairperson of car-haul company Jack Cooper Holdings Corp., defeated Triana Arnold James, also a businesswoman. She will face either state Sen. David Shafer or former state Rep. Geoff Duncan, who also go to a runoff.

One thing is clear though, the November ballot will pit two Democratic women against two Republican men — and will be hard fought. The Republicans have held a “trifecta” of government control since 2005. But Georgia’s demographics are changing, Democrats are energized and many believe 2018 could be the year to break the red streak and turn Georgia blue.

In a nod to the stakes and fight ahead, Abrams, the daughter of ministers, cited the Book of Esther in her victory speech. “We are born for such a time as this — a time to defend our values and protect the vulnerable,” she said, “a time to know that this democracy only works when we work for it.”

Indeed, the state has become a prime target for the national Democratic Party this year. President Donald Trump won Georgia by a margin of only 5 percentage points — compared to former President George Bush’s 17-point win in 2004. Meanwhile, the state’s minority population, which tends to be left-leaning, is growing quickly. In 1990, 27 percent of Georgia’s population was African-American. In 2016, the number climbed to 32 percent. Some counties are projected to have a minority-majority within the next 5 years, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Minorities, young people and women voters could indeed prove key to electing more Democrats — voters who are all central to Abrams election strategy, which has been likened to President Barack Obama’s winning 2008 coalition. Especially in the South, Democrats have tended to work to win centrist white voters, which Abrams has called a losing strategy. However, for her strategy to work in November, she will have to both register new voters and make sure they show up on Election Day, which will be a challenge.

In her speech, Abrams embraced it. “With your help, we will register every last person we know – and we will talk to Georgians from all walks of life to engage them too,” she said. “With your hands knocking and your feet walking and your voices speaking out, every Georgian we touch will understand the value and immense power of the vote.”

The Democratic primary contest between Abrams and Evans was expensive and nasty at times. But Abrams sought to heal the divide on Tuesday, inviting Evans and her supporters to unite behind her campaign. “For the journey that lies ahead, we need every voice in our party – and every independent thinker in the state of Georgia – energized, and by our side to succeed, so I hope you will join our fight for the future,” she said.

Evans accepted that invitation, tweeting: “Now it’s time to rally behind our nominee – let’s turn Georgia blue, y’all.”

During the primary, Abrams won the support of funding powerhouse Emily’s List, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as potential 2020 presidential candidates Senators Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, among others.

She will need all the big-name help she can get for November. Likely Republican nominee Cagle has already amassed $6 million to Abrams’ $3.3 million. But with the nomination now in hand and many Democrats inspired by her story, Abrams seems destined to receive significant support from both the party and rank-and-file Democrats around the country.

Joining Abrams on the Democratic ticket will be Riggs Amico, who aims to replace Cagle as lieutenant governor. She defeated James, a pastor, businesswoman and army veteran, with 56 percent of the vote.

A moderate, her campaign focused pledges to improve the economy, expand healthcare and end underfunding of public education. Notably, Riggs Amico used her business credentials to blast Cagle for seeking to kill tax laws that benefit Delta Airlines, one of Georgia’s largest employers, after it ended discounts for members of the National Rifle Association, one of his major political donors.

Both Abrams and Riggs Amico have put education and building a strong modern economy at the center of their campaign messages.

In her victory speech, Abrams promised to be Georgia’s “Public Education Governor.” She decried an “assault” on public education in the state, where kids and educators are “being told to do more and more with less and less.”

She also movingly recounted a conversation with an aspiring woman entrepreneur named Pam, whom she met on the campaign trail. With prodding from Abrams, Pam described a private dream in which she would trade her life as a Piggly Wiggly cashier for one as a daycare center owner, working out of a building down the road from her house in Macon.

“But, she told me, no one would ever loan her the money – because who was she to want so much?” Abrams said. “I’m running for governor because Georgia must invest in Pam Inc., to see her dreams as vital and real and necessary and true.”